Meet the street photographer Erik Witsoe who’s capturing the everyday, every day.
Unlikely moments inspire street photographer Erik Witsoe to keep searching for his next story. We dug a little deeper to find out how Erik captures the magic of the everyday.
Discover how he shoots changing styles throughout transforming seasons in the streets of Warsaw.
Let’s start at the beginning Erik - how did you get into photography?
Growing up I had cameras around me all the time. My grandfather and my parents had cameras – but no one was particularly serious with them. I actually started off as an artist and when I went to art school one of the courses was on photography. My grandmother bought me my first camera then. So, everything I learned is from a fine art perspective.
My real passion for photography developed around 12 years ago when I hit a creative slump, I wasn’t drawing or painting. My fiancé is an avid photographer and she simply said, “You should try photography.” She gave me some brief tips on how to work a camera and that’s when I started shooting and fell in love with it.
We’re particularly interested in your street photography; can you tell us a little bit more about what draws you to capturing these stories?
It’s not something that I imagined myself doing and I still don’t really consider myself a street photographer. I’m more caught up by the small moments and pieces of memory that move past us. I like the idea that my life’s a film and I’m simply catching little frames of it.
I used to shoot what I thought other people wanted to see but that didn’t work for me; I became frustrated with disregarding things that made me smile. When I go out I don’t have a preconceived notion about what I’m going to discover, it’s just what I stumble across.
I’m just trying to show snippets that move me. It could be a small detail, someone’s shadow or the back of a head; it’s these fleeting glimpses that capture my attention.
Have you found that since you’ve been capturing stories in cities that fashion and styles have changed?
The best thing about living in a foreign country is being an observer; it makes everything interesting, meaning that I notice small changes.
Poland is fast with its trends, especially young people, but if you go out on a Sunday morning and see older generations heading to church their clothes are often very old fashioned. There’s a real juxtaposition between the ages here.
Other than your Canon EOS 6D Mark II, what other kit do you use?
When it comes to street photography I’m a real minimalist with kit. When you’re constantly on the move you don’t want to be weighed down by bulky bags.
I use a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens and a tripod sometimes if I’m traveling and after steady shots.
We’ve noticed a cinematic quality to your stories – is that deliberate?
I grew up with a huge dosage of cinema, my dad took me to every movie ever made – it was his way of bonding with my brother and I. As a result I naturally look at things in a dynamic fashion and even now I think in frames. That’s why I like to shoot over people’s shoulders or from a protagonist point of view, like the back of the head, these strangers become characters that I put into my work.
Erik, you grew up in America but now you’re living in Poland, did this location change impact the way you shoot the streets?
My style has definitely changed. When I first arrived in Poland I didn’t like capturing people, I’d wait on streets until there wasn’t anybody on it. I realised that it was boring me; I was missing the character - the protagonist.
Poland is a very pedestrian place, whereas in America they’re obsessed with cars and driving. I think that’s why I initially felt uncomfortable photographing people walking - I just wasn’t used to it. This has definitely shifted as I became more comfortable.
You shoot predominantly in Warsaw where you live now, and before that in Poznan, how do you find new stories to capture?
One thing that I love about Poland is that it's very seasonal. I can shoot on the same street every month and capture something different because it looks and feels new. Plus, people dress differently too to reflect the seasonal changes. There are times when I've shot the same places over and over again, and I have a series of images from the same angle and each one looks different.
What story, or collection of city stories, are you most proud of and why?
There’s one that’s probably my most well known story, it’s called This Morning. The image is of a tram going down a street and it looks like a purplish evening but it’s actually the morning. The image looks like it’s taken in the 1950s but was shot in 2012, it made me realise how nostalgic Poland is as a country. That felt like a turning point for me and how I saw my new home.
When photographing strangers do you feel privy to their private moments?
I am very sensitive to other people’s personal space and I try hard to give that space room to breath. I don’t crowd people; I try to be delicate.
That being said, I’m out to capture authentic, everyday and often fleeting moments. It’s a hard line to walk.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out with street photography?
I shoot anything and everything that makes me smile, so, find the things that are interesting to you and let them lead you. Learn about composition and how to frame. Learn how to get the most out of your camera and understand your lens. Do this and your style will develop naturally.
How do you see your street photography developing?
I’m looking towards more project-based imagery. After shooting on the streets for over a decade I like the idea of growing into exhibits or projects that are more linear, which have a stronger narrative.
Erik’s Kit Bag
Answers edited for clarity and pacing.
Interview credit: Written by Sasha Newbury